General Mills Cheerios may now be “non-GMO” but it is virtually guaranteed to contain Roundup herbicide residues, as disclosed by North America’s largest oat supplier.
While there are no genetically modified oats on the marketplace today, non-organic oats might as well be labeled Roundup Ready (RR). This is because it is common practice to spray them with Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate, putting them in the same category of glyphosate contaminated crops which includes RR GM soy, corn and canola.
Why must oats be sprayed? Known as pre-harvest desiccation, glyphosate is sprayed on oat crops right before their harvest, ostensibly to increase product uniformity and yield, and to save time in harvesting.
Specifically, Monsanto International published a paper in 2010 touting the application of Roundup to kill crops right before harvest, in order to dry out the crops in advance and produce a more uniform and earlier harvest (starting on page 28):
Uneven maturity and green tissue delays harvest. Spraying glyphosate desiccates green foliage & stems. The photograph (below left) shows the uniform dessication of sunflower by the use of glyphosate(Roundup Bioaktiv) applied by helicopter in Hungary (Czepó, 2009a). The photograph (below right) shows complete foliar desiccation of grain maize on the right side 14 days after application of glyphosate (Roundup Bioaktiv) at 0.54kg ae/ ha in 7 0L/ ha applied by helicopter using Reglojet nozzles and including Bandrift Plus at 0.1 % at 34% grain moisture in Hungary, with the untreated visible on the left-hand side.
Assuming pre-harvest desiccation actually works as Monsanto claims, it should result in lower drying costs, an earlier harvest, and ultimately higher profit. But what is not figured in is the cost to the consumer who is already faced with widespread exposure to a chemical that has already been found in most the water, air, rain samples tested and which may retain serious toxicity at concentrations in as low as parts-per-trillion range?
Most people today consider Roundup herbicide exposure to be a problem linked solely to GMO foods, and not oats. This misconception has been a convenient fact for the non-GMO sector of Big Agra, which continues to use a wide range of highly toxic agrochemicals in food and feed crops that can still legally be described and/or labeled as non-GMO.
But the industry is beginning to be forced to respond to both a powerful shift in consumer awareness and demand in favor of organically produced, non-GMO oat products, as well as to a WHO report released last March that identified glyphosate to be a ‘probable carcinogen.’
Did General Mills’ Move Towards “non-GMO” Cheerios Distract From the Roundup Problem?
When General Mills announced Cheerios would go non-GMO, the decision was received with some skepticism by those who quickly pointed out the fact that GMO oats don’t exist and Cheerios, for the most part, was already a non-GMO product. One writer for Modern Farmer addressed the deceptive tactic:
General Mills’ decision to stop using genetically modified organisms to make Cheerios (and, more to the point, its decision to brag about it on cereal boxes) was relatively easy: there’s no such thing as genetically modified oats.
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While General Mills decision to switch Cheerios to non-GMO sugarcane sugar could be considered a positive step forward, it effectively distracts from the fact that General Mills’ oat products are contaminated with glyphosate due to the use of raw material that underwent post-harvest desiccation. How do we know this? Because North America’s largest oat supplier, known to supply General Mills, Kraft, Kellogg, On Agra Foods, and others, just announced it will continue to buy oats that are sprayed with glyphosate.
Richardson Milling Supports Roundup Contaminated Oats; Grain Millers Phases Them Out
In a disturbing announcement, the Canada-based oat supplier Richardson Milling – North America’s largest supplier of oats – says glyphosate dessication is acceptable for its oats and that it has no intention of changing its policies. This decision flies in the face of an accumulating body of scientific evidence that shows glyphosate has a wide range of harmful properties, including possible carcinogenicity, which is now supported by the World Health Organization’s own assessment. We can only assume that downstream manufacturers such as General Millers are in tacit agreement with their suppliers decision, despite their public bragging about taking some of their cherished cereal brands “GMO free.”
Other oat suppliers, such as Grain Millers, are taking a more precautionary step. Grain Millers, based in Minnessota, announced two months ago that they will no longer buy oats if the crop has been treated with glyphosate pre-harvest. Notably, they reported quality problems in glyphosate treated oats, such as reduced beta glucan content. Beta glucan is a soluble fiber which has been linked to a wide range of health benefits, such as improved blood lipid profiles, cardiovascular protection, and strengthening the immune system. In fact, the reason why food manufacturers are able to place a “Healthy Heart” claim on oat-based products is due to the beta glucan content.
A spokesperson for Grain Millers, Terry Tyson, was reported as stating that glyphosate interrupts the oat plant’s natural maturation process, which may decrease beta glucan content. Tyson was quoted on Producer.com stating:
Other factors can also adversely affect beta glucan levels, but our research demonstrates that premature application of glyphosate can have that effect.
Clearly the issue with glyphosate extends beyond it simply reducing the levels of a beneficial plant compound. Glyphosate, even at exceedingly small concentration, poses a serious health risk. Because there is widespread focus on GMO labeling and not Roundup contamination labeling it is possible that people are being ‘gene-washed’ into buying non-GMO labeled products that still contain physiologically significant levels of Roundup herbicide.
Beyond “GMO-Free” Gene-Washing
The concern about glyphosate contamination of oats is highly instructive as we move towards mass acceptance of non-GMO labeling and/or certification initiatives which do not account for the widespread use of glyphosate in non-genetically modified products. Even USDA certified organic brands, such as Organic Valley and Horizon Organic Dairy, regularly use veterinary vaccines that contain genetically modified ingredients; an unethical practice we have termed “Organic-Washing.”
And so, because glyphosate is being used as an EPA approved, pre-harvest desiccant, it is more likely to fly under the radar and not be identified as a highly toxic ‘pesticide’ contaminant, which it is. Nor do these certifications address other important food quality issues such as the presence of other pesticides in ostensibly non-GMO products or the common non-labeled use of irradiated ingredients.
I would urge consumers and health advocates to consider whether the term non-GMO is as relevant as it would first appear. For instance, labeling water “Gluten Free” is factually true, but a highly disingenuous form of consumer manipulation. Consumers don’t just want to know their food does not contain transgenes from other species and their associated novel proteins. They want to know that their food is not contaminated with agrochemicals commonly used in GM agriculture. And right now the non-GMO labeled products on the market are not doing an effective job at providing assurance of that.